Category Archives: Fiduciary Duties

Trust Decanting Disputes

As trust decanting becomes increasingly popular, we can expect to see more disputes and litigation regarding trust decanting. This blog post examines some of the main issues that will likely arise in those disputes. First, what is trust decanting? The Uniform Law Commission states: “’Decanting’ is the term used to describe the distribution of assets from one trust into a second trust, like wine is decanted from the bottle to another vessel. Decanting can be a useful strategy for changing the outdated terms of an otherwise irrevocable trust, but can also be abused to defeat the settlor’s intent.” Essentially, decanting …

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Trustee Removal Lawsuits: An Overview

How can a person remove a trustee of a trust? Depending on the language of the trust, there could be several ways. This blog post summarizes some of the options, and provides an overview of things to consider when a person wants to remove a trustee. First, the terms of the trust itself may provide procedures for the removal of a trustee. Oftentimes, comprehensively-drafted trust instruments will contain specific procedures whereby beneficiaries or a beneficiary may remove a trustee. Those procedures could require a specific reason for the trustee removal (such as misconduct on the part of the trustee) or …

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Misconduct Remedies Against an Agent Under a Power of Attorney

In a prior blog post, I discussed the duties of an agent under a power of attorney. In this blog post, I discuss the remedies that people have against an agent under a power of attorney when the agent commits misconduct. The first issue is who has standing to pursue legal action against an agent under a power of attorney? Virginia has adopted a modified version of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act that spells out the categories of people who can seek judicial relief against an agent. Under Virginia Code Section 64.2-1614, the following are some of the parties …

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Duties of an Agent Under a Power of Attorney

Many average people are named as agents under a power of attorney for a family member or friend, and most have little to no idea what they are getting themselves into. Many people also are aware of the fact that a relative may serve as agent under a power of attorney for a family member or friend, and may be ignorant of how much financial mischief that person could commit with that authority. This blog post outlines the duties of an agent under a power of attorney. I will follow-up this blog post with another post in the coming weeks …

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The Rise of Litigation Involving Trust Protectors

Disputes involving trust protectors are increasing in number and will likely only further increase in number in the coming years. This blog post discusses what a trust protector is, whether trust protectors owe fiduciary duties (and to whom), and why litigation involving trust protectors is likely to increase in the future. What Is A Trust Protector? A trust protector is a person who is named in a trust to exercise varying types of oversight functions with respect to a trustee, or to exercise certain powers with respect to amending the trust. The powers of a trust protector can vary widely, …

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Confronting Caretaker Abuse & Misconduct

While most caretakers for sick and elderly people are honest, occasionally families and friends are forced to deal with a dishonest caretaker who steals a person’s money; pressures him to change a will, trust, or power of attorney; pressures him to sign a deed; isolates him from family members, etc. A recent article highlights this unfortunate fact: A Newport News [Virginia] woman will serve a fraction of a 30-year prison sentence for stealing $30,000 from a woman she cared for. Michele Lee Conley, 43, received three-year prison sentences for 10 counts of forgery and uttering after she tricked a 92-year-old …

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Tips For Successful Succession Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  ― Abraham Lincoln Your company is built to last. But when you are ready to step back and let go of the reins, will the next generation preserve your legacy? Many times my clients owning a closely-held company or family-owned business have shared with me their hope to ensure a successful transition at their company to future leaders. And as a litigator, too often I’ve seen shaky succession plans fall apart, forcing my clients to dismiss potential future leaders and reinsert …

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Trustees Should Avoid Bitcoin

As bitcoin becomes increasingly popular, some are starting to ask: should trustees of trusts invest a portion of trust assets in bitcoin? There are very strong reasons why they should not. As I explain below, investing in bitcoin, in most circumstances, could put a trustee at risk of violating the Uniform Prudent Investor Act. First some background: for those unfamiliar with bitcoin, Wikipedia provides a helpful overview: Bitcoin is an online payment system invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, who published his invention in 2008, and released it as open-source software in 2009. The system is peer-to-peer; users can transact directly without …

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Waiting for Atticus Finch

Harper Lee Allegations Show the Importance of Proper Actions by an Agent Under a Power of Attorney The media and publishing world has been abuzz the past few weeks with news that Harper Lee – the author of the famed novel To Kill A Mockingbird – plans to publish her first novel in over 55 years. Described as a sequel, the new novel Go Set a Watchman is set to be released this coming summer. Recently, several media outlets have published reports from acquaintances of the 88-year old Ms. Lee implying that publication of the new novel is contrary to Ms. …

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Perfect Estate Plans (On Paper) Can Still Lead to Litigation

Having handled approximately 100 estate disputes, I’m frequently asked what people can do with their estate plans to try to prevent disputes from arising among their family members. Having a proper estate plan in place is unquestionably a key component to preventing a dispute among family members. But perhaps equally important is naming competent, honest people to the fiduciary positions in an estate plan. Here’s what I mean.  The most well-written estate plan can’t prevent the following scenarios: a trustee who mismanages a trust, a trustee who refuses to inform and report to the beneficiaries as required by law, or …

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